Open Thread

Apologies for my silence recently – I just finished writing some final exams that I missed for the AGU conference, so I’ve been studying hard ever since Boxing Day.

I am working on a larger piece about climate models: an introduction to how they work and why they are useful. That will take about a week to finish, so in the mean time, here is an open thread to keep things moving.

Some possible discussion topics from posts I’ve enjoyed:



13 thoughts on “Open Thread

  1. While I sort of agree that one should practice what one preaches, conferences are immensely valuable learning experiences. A huge chunk of that value is the face to face discussions about the bits not in the papers: The conclusions we would like to draw but cannot quite make stick, The could you have done it this way, Maybe even the missing piece of the jigsaw, Matching he who has the data with he who has the theory. What has been done before that did not work (and how close it was). In short I am saying the informal coffee and wine discussions are almost as important as the formal.

    Then there is the general enthusiasm.

    So Kate did you get a lot that you would not have got from a video conference?

    • Absolutely!

      As an aside, I ended up purchasing carbon offsets for my flights to and from AGU. Not a perfect solution, but better than nothing if you find a reputable organization. The David Suzuki Foundation has a consumer guide reviewing different companies. I went with, which seemed to be the most reputable, based on international certification standards. It wasn’t actually very expensive, and it made me feel less guilty about flying in an airplane!

  2. Conferences are hugely important especially for young people getting into the science. It’s about becoming part of the community. Kate has that precisely right. I must admit (blush) that, in spite of being a long time AGU member (and having served as an officer on committees) I have never been at any of the big AGU conferences…

    In fact, at my current age and stage of career (and funding situation), I don’t travel much any more to big conferences… I’ve seen it all :-) But I do send my grad students whenever possible, and they hugely enjoy it and benefit.

    As a curiosity, I am a co-author on three climatology papers already, and I have not (yet?) personally met any of the (totalling six) other authors face to face!

    About ‘do as you preach’, I think the remark on Bart’s blog that this only applies to statements of ‘ought to’, not statements of ‘is’, is pertinent. Also the idea that scientists would seriously propose a ‘return to the stone age’ is just another such mix-up, of ‘will be’ and ‘ought to’.

    In reality, I (or anybody I know) do not believe that any very intrusive life style changes will be needed if we get our act together now: by the IPCC WG III report it won’t even cost us more than a few percent of global GDP. About the price of a decent war, minus the body bags ;-)

  3. “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert” by Canadian feminist Donna Laframboise.

    ROFL. Kate, was she talking about you?

    Another is “Roosters of the Apocalypse: How the Junk Science of Global Warming Nearly Bankrupted the Western World” by Rael Jean Isaac.

    Books like these, with countless footnotes and unverifiable claims, are so effective because they are easy for us simpletons to read and believe. And because they reinforce our desire to continue along our paths of least burden.

  4. We need to start determining how the world will survive an impending economic and population decline disaster, a result of unstoppable climate change and our own stupidity. We know that climate change and global warming are real, but we do not know what to do about it, and because we do not know, we choose not to do anything. We who could make a difference believe we have the most to lose and least to gain by sacrificing to make a difference. Morning, noon, and night our cars and trucks choke freeways around the world, their number rapidly approaching one billion. We construct more and wider freeways to contain our ever increasing number of cars and trucks. We demand more and more concrete and asphalt to construct our ever-increasing number of roads and freeways. Is this happening because we love sitting in our vehicles for hours on end, going nowhere? No. It is happening because we must sit in our vehicles for hours on end, going nowhere. We know of no other way, and if we did, the other ways would represent sacrifices that we are unwilling or unable to make. We will continue down our paths of destruction, not because we can or prefer to, but because we must; we will continue down these paths until circumstances change the paths, not us. Then it will be too late for us to make a difference, as if we ever could or would anyway. It is already too late to make a difference. Renewable energy will eventually replace fossil fuels, but that will happen too late to avoid global warming catastrophes. We have started world-destruction processes that cannot be stopped or reversed; we must now prepare to survive as best we can in this ever-increasingly hostile world of our own making. But that will not be easy in a world where economies feast on their own destruction, where economies consume and destroy their very existence. Costal cities around the world will be inundated. At this very minute we should be preparing to relocate countless millions of people, but we refuse to believe or imagine, so we will wait until suffering and death and costs become unimaginable, unmanageable. Then it will be too late. Uninhabitable deserts will rapidly expand, and countless millions will have to be relocated. But we are not preparing. We will wait until suffering and death and costs become unimaginable, unmanageable, and it will be far too late. Hurricanes, tornados, and torrential rains will become more common. World food production will decline, and the delivery of food products will become more difficult to impossible. Potable drinking water and irrigation resources will become more scarce and polluted. At first the fortunate of us will feel sorry for the starving hoards, and then we will be terrified as the starving hoards descend upon us, for our inhabitable world is becoming smaller and smaller, and we will find fewer and fewer fortresses in which to hide. Today we fortunates are indeed fortunate because we far outnumber the starving unfortunates who are easy to suppress and control. But power lies in numbers, and the day will come when the starving and dying unfortunates, with an abundant supply of weapons, will far outnumber the overfed fortunates and their weapons, and the fortunates will exhaust their weapons and energy in a vain attempt to maintain an existence that cannot be. In two-hundred short years—ten generations—the industrial revolution has set the world on a path of accelerating self destruction. How much time remains? Five generations? Few can remember or comprehend the tremendous suffering and sorrow of the First Great Depression, four generations past, when oil literally burst from the ground. The Second Great Depression, just over the horizon, will not be so easy; our oil energy supply is gone. We sit at the end of a very long and fragile and expensive oil energy supply line. Our ever-expanding economic bubble and waistlines, propped up by our more than one hundred trillion dollar debt, keeps the oil tankers moving across the Atlantic and filling our gas tanks. How many more trillions of dollars debt will the world tolerate before that bubble crashes down around us? The consequences are incomprehensible, so we shall not imagine or prepare. We shall not imagine or prepare for fuel or food shortages. Who shall be given the privilege of driving to work and feeding their family? Who shall become the homeless and the hungry beggars? Who shall become the savages roaming the country and taking by force and violence what they need to survive? Those with foresight say that we must buy up land and guns. “You can raise food and hunt game,” they say, “if you own land.” And what will the starving hoards do as they watch us rip our teeth into deer meat roasted over our campfires? What a dream, what a farce. Climate experts are asking, “Is the world ever going to catch on to climate change?” A better question might be, “What can we do to help the world survive an impending economic and population decline disaster, a result of unstoppable climate change and our own stupidity?”

  5. The Hockey Stick, or “What I Learned in School Today”

    One group of people were born right handed, and another group left handed. It is difficult for a right handed person to do many routine or difficult tasks with the left hand, and vise versa for a left handed person.

    One group of society has been trained to read and write from left to right, top to bottom. Another group from right to left, top to bottom. So, if you were trained to read and write one way, it is difficult to switch to the other.

    Now let’s take the graph. Would you rather “Soar like an Eagle” or “Plunge like a Turkey?” Would you rather see a graph sweep “Up” (smile) or “Down” (frown?) Up connotes the Happy Soaring Eagle and Down the Sad Plunging Turkey. Up connotes Good News and Down, Bad News. The majority of graph readers are conditioned this way.

    So using Hockey Sticks to send Bad News may backfire. Busy readers are conditioned to see “up, up and away” as soaring good news, not plunging bad news. So asking people to interpret hockey sticks as bad news is like asking them to switch reading directions or hands. With considerable effort, they will make the switch, but more likely they will not, and the Hockey Stick’s message will be lost. (As often seems to be the case.)

    So how might one turn that CO2 Hockey Stick graph into a purveyor of Bad-News Doomsday? What if the consensus of “experts” is that Doomsday represents 500 ppm CO2? And what if we subtracted the famous CO2 Hockey Stick from 500 ppm CO2 and labeled the new graph something like “Allowable Atmospheric CO2 Increase Until D-Day?” WOW! That curve is PLUNGING toward ZERO! ZERO is ARMAGEDDON! THE END! That is one “UNHAPPY TURKEY” curve, and I had better take notice.

    Scientists will do well to remember that UP sends good news signals and DOWN sends bad news signals.

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